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Slinging Hot Dogs To Seth Avett And Singing Southern Rock: Charlotte's Late Night Special Has Some Music Stories

Led by Fred Lee IV (pictured here singing into the microphone), Late Night Special is a Southern roots rock band based in Charlotte.
Mark Hanson Photography
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Led by Fred Lee IV (pictured here singing into the microphone), Late Night Special is a Southern roots rock band based in Charlotte.

The musical road has been a winding one for Charlotte's Fred Lee IV. From cutting hair in his father's salon and slinging hot dogs to Scott Avett to now leading the Southern roots rock band Late Night Special and hosting the annual Shakedown Music Festival featuring regional musicians, Fred Lee IV has some musical stories to tell.

“Our music flirts with almost a country or folk sound because the roots of the region definitely flow through us and the music.”
– Fred Lee IV, lead singer of Late Night Special

Interview Highlights:

On getting started in music:

Growing up, my parents both sang karaoke in our living room all the time. My dad had records he would always play. They predominantly listened to classic rock … fortunately, they had very eclectic tastes, so we listened to things far and wide. My mom sang in church a lot, so she was always practicing something for church.

But I never played music as a child. My dad had instruments because he was in a band until he had me. I didn’t play music until I was 21 years old. That was the first time I picked up the guitar and had a friend teach me a guitar chord. And a year later, I started playing music.

I never really thought I could (play) because I had never taken lessons. My parents had offered all of us kids to take any music lesson we wanted, but guitar. They said we could learn guitar ourselves. So I just never thought I was musically talented until that one night when the guy showed me that one chord.

On how cutting hair and slinging hot dogs led to starting his band Late Night Special:

As I’m learning guitar, I’m actually finishing up my cosmetology degree. My dad has owned a hair salon for 30-plus years, so I was going to go cut hair. I did that for a couple of years, and in the process of doing that, I took another business venture with a guy on a food truck. I worked for him a couple of years and ending up buying my own (truck) and did it all around Charlotte.

It was me and a buddy, and we called it “Fred and Brock’s Franks and Brats.” We would take this hot dog cart to the music venues. At one point in time, Scott Avett actually signed our hot dog cart, and it had it in Sharpie. It wore off as we went, but it was such a cool little moment.

In 2013, me and a guy that I went to high school with and played football (with) started playing at open mics together. We had come up with the name “The Fred and Brad Late Night Special.” That’s how the Late Night Special name stuck around.

On starting the Shakedown Music Festival:

The festival started back around 2014. A good friend’s mom passed away that year around Halloween, and no one wanted to go out because everyone was feeling down. His girlfriend asked if my band could just play at the house. I had actually met a couple bands in those months, so I invited them to this mini-festival. A couple hundred of people showed up to this first Shakedown, we had a great time and even had to use truck lights to provide light for the stages. And that’s how it started: a small band creating a big show. So we took the idea and ran with it.

On the band’s work during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic:

It’s definitely affected us in both good and bad ways. When things first happened, everyone in the band was so cautious and took precautions to not be around each other and be careful. There were no shows to play. For a long time, that was what we relied on to stay so well-rehearsed by just playing shows a few times a weekend instead of practicing four times a week.

But I told the guys at the beginning, “This is a moment where we have to decide if this is going to break us in the end, or is this really going to help us out.” People have been saying forever that they don’t have enough time. Well, you just got a year’s worth of time put on your plate.

What seemed to be a dark time — no shows, no work — we released an album [Halfway to Somewhere] despite the odds of releasing an album in the face of a pandemic. It paid off. It started to get some more momentum and more attention back to the music. We have 10 times the amount of people listening to our music now than we did at the beginning of 2020.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Late Night Special - “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”
Late Night Special - “Hold On”
Late Night Special - “Don’t Forget Your Past”
Late Night Special - “Survive”
Late Night Special - “Disco”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).